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Dow Chemical Co. Dow Chemical Co. has re-engineered the sleds of USA Luge with new materials and design features intended to improve performance. When the U.S. luge team takes to the icy track at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games this February in Sochi, Russia, the athletes — or “sliders” — will have technological know-how from Michigan propelling their runs.In a relationship that joins a global leader in the chemical industry with a sport where athletes are separated by thousandths of a second, Dow Chemical Co. has re-engineered the sleds of USA Luge, incorporating new materials and design features intended to improve the sleds’ performance.The project replaces an aging fleet of largely hand-built sleds that three-time Olympian and USA Luge technical director Duncan Kennedy says lacked consistency with equipment that capitalizes on Dow’s design, engineering and manufacturing expertise in fields such as automotive. Duncan Kennedy It’s not the Midland-based company’s first foray into sports technology. Dow technologies and products have been incorporated in uses ranging from race cars to golf clubs to hockey sticks. Past Olympic Games contributions have included Styrofoam brand insulation used in ice skating rinks and luge/skeleton/bobsled runs, resins used for artificial grass in field hockey and adhesives used to bind materials in a running track.But the current work with USA Luge, an outgrowth of a technical relationship maintained with the team since 2007, is unique for Dow because the company receives immediate feedback from athletes and coaches. That enables Dow’s research and development team to make what Dow calls “tailor-made adjustments to the most specific needs in real time,” based on what Dow and USA Luge have learned on the track.It’s a good relationship, said Kennedy, who works closely with Dow’s team in Midland, where R&D and testing has taken place.”The amazing part is, when I talk with these guys, when I work with these guys, they make me feel like all they do is build luge sleds,” Kennedy said. “Which is fantastic. Their enthusiasm is what drives me, as well.”We’re always texting back and forth after we see results; they’re always anxious to see who’s on what, who’s happy about what, who’s going fast.”Going the fastest wins. Much can affect that, from sled materials and design to rider comfort and control. Kennedy said that while Dow brought engineering and materials expertise to the project, there was an open-ended exploration of design as well as goals.”From the very beginning, they were looking to me for guidance on what I wanted out of the product — and I’ll admit right here, I didn’t really know,” Kennedy said. Like whether the sled’s runners, or kufens, should be flexible or stiff.Gone are traditional wood cores in the kufens, replaced by various composites.Officials won’t divulge many specifics about the re-engineering of the sleds. But one change was to incorporate a carbon-fiber composite that is lightweight, replacing another element of the kufens: Fiberglass.Carbon-fiber-based materials are used in a variety of industries — like automotive — where weight savings and durability are among key performance factors. The composite has become “an integral part of the sled runners,” said Jay Tudor, a research scientist in the Core R&D Division of Dow’s Michigan operations.Kennedy said one characteristic he sought was good handling of vibration.”If you have a sled that’s very chattery and doesn’t absorb the shock and vibration very well,” he said, “it can become quite difficult to drive.” Dow Chemical Co. Dow says it has applied some of what it has learned from the luge track to products sold commercially. Luge is a sport in which gravity-driven speeds can exceed 95 mph. But beyond a sled’s physical characteristics hermes replica , a host of variables can affect performance, from tiny changes in how an athlete points the feet or lifts his or her head to ice conditions and individual runs.And that can make it difficult to “figure out the contribution and the magnitude of the changes that you’re making,” said Scott Burr, lead R&D manager in the Dow division. “The biggest challenge is actually deciphering if what you did is an actual improvement.”To help evaluate small changes and predict outcomes, Dow used computer simulation that took into account numerous variables — a process called computational modeling.Burr said the work with USA Luge “continues to be a very intense and very in-depth project” that entails continual learning and adjustment and has involved Dow employees engaged in modeling and analysis, product engineering, prototyping, design and manufacture.The sled re-engineering builds on previous collaborations between Dow and USA Luge on spot projects. Neither party disclosed financial details of the arrangement. But it stands to benefit Dow’s brand as a company applying expertise and technology to innovation, said Mike Bernacchi, a professor of marketing in the University of Detroit Mercy’s College of Business Administration.In the public eye, it positions Dow in a new light to the consumer. “And all of a sudden, you’re building a relationship,” Bernacchi said. “While luge is not exactly a day-to-day product, the next step is to be able to imagine how this would lead to final consumer products.”And beyond that, Bernacchi said, Dow is “a publicly traded company, it’s a significant business, the name is recognizable, and the best way to keep the brand contemporary and full of vitality is to keep it in the public’s eye.”Dow says it has applied some of what it has learned from the luge track to products sold commercially but declined to elaborate on details.For USA Luge, the benefits of Dow’s involvement include addressing “the precision and accuracy with which everything is produced,” Kennedy said.He said that in the past, some sled parts were handmade. As a result, “if you broke one portion of the old sled, you couldn’t just slap on a replacement piece.”What we’re trying to do with all this is make them precise enough so everything is repeatable, understood and also swappable.”In a sport timed to a thousandth of a second, I feel like addressing any details we can , that are being addressed with the Dow program, are going to help. Even if it doesn’t make the slider immediately faster, what it does do is create a solid, understood base … you know how it’s going to behave.”Tested at Dow and at venues that include the track that will host the Sochi races, the Dow kufens are being used during the current World Cup circuit. Kennedy said additional sled design work, in collaboration with Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., is being done on the “pod,” the aerodynamic shell that sliders lie on. The next-generation pod design eventually will go to Dow to produce, Kennedy said.The athletes have been happy with the kufens’ performance, reporting improvements such as a smoother ride, he said.”Saying if they are actually faster or not is almost impossible to quantify,” Kennedy said. “Part of me will not even say if they are faster or not. But I will say that some people who have gotten on them have noticed an improvement.”They could be a little bit quicker. But they’re definitely smoother … which inspires confidence, and confidence means being more relaxed.”And that’s one of the key, key things with this sport. If the athlete is relaxed, they can go faster. So I’d say they’re working.”Related LinksCompanies associated with Olympics win different awards

Dow works to put U.S. luge team on track to Olympic medals

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